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Lockdown created the perfect opportunity for Call of Duty’s esports effort. What’s next?

Activision held the Mountain Dew's Game Fuel sampling activation during the Call of Duty League Playoffs

As Covid-19 continues to cloud competitive entertainment in 2021, the Call of Duty League is preparing for a second season. The Drum speaks to Activision Blizzard on what it's learned on its year with a captive audience.

2020 was a monumental year for the esports industry, as it helped consumers kill time and boredom under lockdown. One beneficiary was Activision Blizzard’s Call of Duty (CoD) franchise, which saw its free-to-play title Call of Duty: Warzone downloaded by more than 80 million people in the nine months following its March launch.

Brandon Snow, chief revenue officer for brand, media and esports partnerships at Activision Blizzard, claims more people downloaded mobile-based free-to-play title Call of Duty Mobile than the entire population of France, Germany, and the UK combined.

“The new Call of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War was a holiday hit, and was recently reported to be the top-selling game of the year. And to top it off, we launched Call of Duty League – a new, 12-team, city-based global esports league, in January,” says Snow.

“The combination of titles, fan excitement and a new league, all amid a global pandemic, created a truly unprecedented marketplace for us. We saw our viewership and our fan engagement grow throughout the season, culminating in our Champs event in August – which ended up, bringing in the most viewership in the history of Call of Duty esports.”

He adds: “I certainly believe our ability to quickly pivot our competition formats, our fan offerings, and our broadcast operations led to this success, especially since so many other traditional entertainment properties and sports leagues struggled to return to business. We were essentially ‘back on‘ after two weeks of planning, which is a testament to both the versatility in our DNA and the hard work of our teams.”

Despite the many challenges of navigating the pandemic, Snow claims Activision maintained every single commitment to its brand partners in 2020. The company worked with all 12 of its esports teams to make sure they maintained the value to their partners as advertisers began to face uncertainty, changing budgets and reallocated inventories throughout the year.

For example, Activision staged a Mountain Dew Game Fuel sampling activation during the Call of Duty League Playoffs. One of Game Fuel’s main objectives was to put cans in fans’ hands, allowing them to sample their new product onsite at events throughout the season.

In the absence of onsite opportunities, Activision wrangled talent and influencers from the Call of Duty League and CoD family to promote a social giveaway, getting fans pumped for Playoffs and Champs. Thousands of fans had Game Fuel delivered right to their door, along with premium merchandise from their favorite Call of Duty League team.

Aside from Mountain Dew, other advertising partners for the Playoffs included T-Mobile, Astr and Scuf.

“One of the unique selling points for us is, of course, our fan. The average Call of Duty League fan is 24 or 35 years old, which in some cases is 20 years younger than the average fan age in more traditional sports,” says Snow.

“Plus, they’re digitally native and they spend the bulk of their time on platforms like YouTube – our broadcast home, where we’ve amassed more than 1.1 million subscribers in a very short period of time. So we’re putting our partners in front of a great audience, and we’re activating those partners in ways that fans can immediately, seamlessly engage.”

Snow is confident that CoD‘s esports stable will grow even bigger in 2021 and answers “a hell of a lot” when asked what fans and advertisers can expect from the game this year.

“There will be more fan incentives during CDL competition, all season long. We recently announced that we’ll have account linking for Call of Duty League for the 2021 season – so the 125 million-plus Call of Duty players out there now have even more reasons to tune-in to the Call of Duty League, so they can both improve their game and win digital items as they watch the action. Even if you casually dabble in Call of Duty, watching us week in and week out will literally pay off,” Snow says.

“Finally, we have one of the competitive Call of Duty scene’s most beloved names, 100 Thieves, joining us for the 2021 season as the new Los Angeles Thieves. This, along with the OpTic Gaming brand back with Chicago and its founder Hector Rodriguez, speaks to millions of fans that follow and admire these brands.”

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